by Mitchell Grabois
I photographed the bull begging you for mercy. I photographed his unconditional acceptance of mercy or cruelty. I photographed you putting down your sword and your butcher knife, and the black-clad rabbis as they held you in awe. I photographed them as they committed to veganism, as their wives removed their required head shawls. I photographed everyone in the world becoming enlightened. The contrast was stark.
I photographed your soul leaving your body. The rabbis fed me pixels so I would never run out. I put my camera on the ground and stomped on it, like a Jewish bridegroom with his wineglass.
Dr. Umran is Syrian, about five-four, stooped over, bald, face more grey than brown. Kind, little guy, he reminds me of my deceased dad. He walks into the colonoscopy room and says: Who do we have here?
The nurse says: Mitchell Grabios.
Dr. U. says: That’s Grabois. He doesn’t sound like a surgeon. He sounds like a sommelier.
After the procedure he gives me the news. He’s sliced out a couple of big polyps on their way to being cancerous. He wants another colonoscopy in a year.
OK Doc, I say. But I see the future. I see my fate: Colon cancer; chemo; my once luxurious hair gone; my cheeks, once “cute as a chipmunk’s,” gaunt; remission, reemergence, death at age 64.
So who cares how anyone pronounces my name?
In Illinois, I stop at Duffy’s Tavern, with its brick mortared in 1892, with paint peeling from the tin ceiling, but not anywhere close to falling onto your corn beef and cabbage. The waitress is as mean as one of the snakes St. Paddy ran outta Ireland, but life-giving as a potato.
The Countdown to St. Paddy’s Day board reads 150 days. You can figure out what that makes the date. My ragged Keds are rimed with ice—I might as well be back in the Merchant Marine.
1892 is two years older than the schoolhouse in which I reside, I tell the bearded boy leaning on the bar.
So what? he asks.
Show some respect, I say. I don’t care if you’re Irish. I can beat ya armwrestling and drink twice as much too.
What are you? he asks.
I’m a human being, I say, then change my mind. Lithuanian, and that’s a fact.
Lithuanian my ass. You’re a generic old fart. Any Lithuanian that was ever in ye was drained out decades ago.
What you say?
He grabs his 32-ounce beer, and we walk over to his table, where he introduces me to his mother-in-law, his wife, his teenage daughter, his little daughter who looks to be in second grade. He puts his elbow on the table, says: Okay, let’s go, Mr. Lithuania.
You gotta buy me a beer first, I say.
Only if you win. Let’s go.
I put my elbow down, we grip hands, someone waves a snot rag, Slam! My hand’s on the raw, losing end of that deal.
Maybe you want to arm wrestle my mother-in-law, Irishman says with a grin. You beat her, I’ll buy you 2 beers.
But mother-in-law is one vicious Irishwoman. So’s the wife, and the teenage daughter. Even the second grader is one vicious little Irishwoman. Everyone at the table’s laughing, everyone in the bar. My feet feel cold in their ice-melt Keds. Everyone buys me drinks.
Sometime later I’m on the floor. The ceiling is spinning. It’s pressed tin, like the ceiling in the schoolhouse where I reside.
The ceiling in my schoolhouse is just as good, I say, but no one hears me or no one cares. It’s as if I’m already dead.
Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over seven hundred of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for work published in 2012, 2013, and 2014. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition. He lives in Denver.